MLB Pitching Preview: 4 Undervalued Starters Heading into 2019
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Joey Lucchesi.
- Certain pitchers might have left bettors with a bad taste in their mouth last year, but it's not all their fault, as luck can play a huge role in baseball.
- Certain advanced statistics show how much pitchers over- or underperformed based on underlying statistics such as strikeouts and walks.
- For various reasons, Sonny Gray, Dylan Bundy, Joey Lucchesi and Patrick Corbin are all pitchers who could be undervalued heading into 2019.
Baseball is a sport that is heavily impacted by luck. There’s more luck involved in baseball than there even was in the classic Disney Channel Original Movie “The Luck of the Irish.”
Last year, some starting pitchers may have burned you on a regular basis. For example, if you bet on the Reds in all 20 of Homer Bailey’s starts, you would’ve gone 1-19. You probably deserved that, actually.
However, some guys’ records and ERA at the end of the year paint a different picture than what their underlying stats suggest. Here are a handful of pitchers whose advanced metrics were significantly better than some of their traditional stats last year, which should lead to value heading into the 2019 season.
2018 Betting Results: 11-12, -5.5 units
The Sonny Gray experiment in the Bronx did not go well. It went so bad, in fact, that he was relegated to the bullpen last year. Perhaps the bright lights of Yankee Stadium were a bit too much for the former Oakland A, as his home/road splits last year were laughable.
- Home: 59.1 innings pitched, 6.98 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 5.3 BB/9, 1.7 HR/9, 1.90 WHIP
- Away: 71.0 innings pitched, 3.17 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9, 1.15 WHIP
Though the Yanks won nearly half of his starts, bettors certainly would’ve had a hard time making a profit. Since the Yankees are the most popular team in the world (and a darn good team), sportsbooks often shade their lines. As a result, Gray was favored in 20 of 23 starts last year, but that’s not going to be the case now that he’s in Cincinnati.
The Reds will be praying he’s much closer to the road-version of himself from last year. Gray’s already making claims that the Yankees basically made him suck last year by forcing him to throw sliders up the wazoo. I reckon the Reds will let him ease back a bit on those.
With Cincinnati being a consistently underperforming team in a very competitive division, I imagine Gray will be the underdog in around half of his starts — perhaps more. Expect his ERA to drop this year and expect the Reds to win some plus-money payouts in his starts.
2018 Betting Results: 11-15, -2.8 units
The Padres’ ace, I suppose, is Joey Lucchesi. The southpaw started 26 games last year as a rookie, posting a so-so ERA of 4.08. Though San Diego made a huge splash by signing Manny Machado, its rotation remains very thin for the time being. If Lucchesi doesn’t put up numbers, the Padres could be in big trouble. I don’t think that should be an issue, though.
Out of 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched, Lucchesi was one of just 23 with more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. His BB/9 of 2.98 ranked right in the middle of the pack.
Where he had trouble, though, was home runs. Out of those same 140 pitchers, Lucchesi’s HR/FB rate of 20.4% ranked dead last. That’s why his xFIP, which applies a league-average HR/FB rate to each pitcher, was 3.45.
If I was to go out and throw meatball after meatball in the majors, my HR/FB rate would obviously be higher than anyone else’s. You can’t necessarily assume that rate would drop to league average because some pitchers just serve up more mistakes than others. However, you can definitely assume it will drop from 20.4% — which ranks 11th out of 2,417 100-inning seasons since 2002 (the start of Fangraphs’ batted ball database).
With some better luck and a better team behind him, Lucchesi should be an undervalued option every fifth day.
2018 Betting Results: 9-22, -13.1 units (third worst in MLB)
Betting on the Orioles — not a wise choice last year. I know I certainly lost my fair share of units on them. They were the only team we’ve ever tracked dating back to 2005 to eclipse the -50-unit barrier.
Dylan Bundy didn’t help the cause, as the former first round pick posted a 5.45 ERA. Much like Lucchesi, home runs were his problem. His 2.15 HR/9 led the league by a wide margin and the 41 total jacks he gave up were seven more than the runner-up.
Bundy was unluckier than most, posting a 17.8% HR/FB rate, but also gave up a lot of fly balls, too. Put those two things together and you obviously get a ton of home runs allowed.
Though Bundy and the O’s have hit rock bottom, there’s a little hope. At least in Bundy’s case.
His K/9 of 9.65 was a career high by more than a full strikeout, while his BB/9 of 2.83 was decent enough. If he keeps the ball in the yard this year, he’s going to give the ugly Orioles a chance to win. A chance. Since the Orioles will be underdogs night in and night out — and massive dogs pretty often, too — Bundy has a chance to cash in some big plus-money payouts. Nobody will be betting on them, but trust me, the Orioles will be better than they were last year. They have to be, right?
2018 Betting Results: 17-16, -2.5 units
Patty Corbin’s career took off at the right time, as a monster 2018 campaign led to a huge payday from the Nationals.
But wait a second … isn’t this the undervalued list of pitchers? How could Corbin be undervalued after having the best season of his career?
Well, it is true — Corbin does not fit the same mold as the other pitchers on this list, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be undervalued.
With the D-backs, Corbin was -200 or higher just twice. For comparison’s sake, his new teammate Max Scherzer, who had a worse FIP and xFIP than Corbin, was -200 or higher 19 times.
Though he’s not as big of a name as Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg, Corbin could be every bit as good as them in 2019. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind laying something like -250 for Scherzer, you’d be better off betting on Corbin, who won’t be as big of a favorite in similar spots.